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  • Pat Libby

Nonprofits, can we please stop bullying the “other”?

Last month I wrote a lengthy blog about tensions at various nonprofits between staff and leadership over compensation and working conditions. In it, I quoted a staff person/union organizer at the Southern Poverty Law Center saying “We don’t apologize for being combative.” I’m repeating this wince-making statement because it encapsulates a trend toward “othering” that is proliferating in the nonprofit workplace.

To be fair, I think much of this tension at nonprofits sprouted from the culture wars and accompanying online vitriol that is permeating society. But my fear is that this constant drumbeat of negativity and antagonism is causing even the most civil among us to fray at the edges and become uncivil, impatient, and dismissive of people who don’t look like us, share the same race, religion, gender identity; use the “right” words, belong to the same social class etc.

A few examples within nonprofits that I’ve seen of late:

  • Forbidding the use of words such as “serving” or “stakeholder” because of their association in other contexts and, worse, attacking allies when they don’t use carefully defined verbiage.

  • Artistic competitions that welcome emerging talent but disallow submissions from anyone who is not included under their definition of diverse.

  • Discarding the expertise of people who are not a specific minority because of assumptions that they won’t be able to communicate effectively with people who don’t share their same background.

We are “othering” people rather than listening to them and respecting them for who they are.

Call me naïve, but I think we CAN have trusting conversations that lead to positive outcomes.

If you want to explore ideas for strengthening communication within your nonprofit, check out:
  • Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s book - Can We Talk?: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work along with her recommendations for other books that address maximizing talent. Roberta writes in a friendly compelling tone which makes the lessons she shares easy to absorb.

  • This interesting piece by PCW that talks about how workplace culture drives strategy. It will walk you through some key steps for realigning your organization’s culture with the people within it, enabling them to do their best and most harmonious work.

  • Alternatively, you can take a completely different tack by reading Marsha Lucas’ book and her recommendations of other books that can help you “build awesome relationships from the inside-out." Marsha’s focus is on cultivating healthy individual relationships.

It doesn’t have to be complicated! As put simply by Ummu Wafa, an Islamic teacher:

“One of the characteristics of positive people is Respectfulness. Respectfulness Kindness, civility, and absolute honesty. You respect everyone in your community, big or small. It doesn’t matter who they are, you believe that all people deserve respect, regardless of their flaws or imperfections.” (I added the emphasis here)

Notice that Ummu didn’t say that you need to respect only people who are Muslim, or for that matter, only people who perfectly who are aligned with your view of the world.

Right now, according to Bloomberg, “fewer than half of [U.S.] workers now trust their organization to give them a fair shake.“

We CAN do better than this if we put our minds and hearts to the task.




Pat Libby is a change management consultant working principally with nonprofit corporations. She is author of The Empowered Citizens Guide: 10 Steps to Passing a Law that Matters to You, Oxford University Press, The Lobbying Strategy Handbook, second edition, Oxford University Press, and Cases in Nonprofit Management, SAGE. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

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1 comentario

02 mar 2023

Thanks for this analysis and the resource recommendations. It’s so helpful !

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